I am finally in Spain! Although the majority of my program takes place in Valencia, we took some vacation time during the first week to visit both Madrid and Toledo. It was an incredible week where I learned so much about the different cities and the culture of Spain.
This was the day I departed for Spain! I first flew from the Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida to the Atlanta airport in Georgia. The trip to Spain was my first time flying on an international flight and also my first time flying alone. The last time I went on a plane, I was only eleven years old. I did a lot of research prior to my flight so that I would be prepared on navigating all of the airports.
I knew that my layover in Atlanta was less than an hour so when I arrived, I had to run to my next terminal. My next terminal was so far from the terminal of my previous flight that I had to take a train. Running through the airport was a pretty good workout. I was glad that I was so prepared because I was able to make it to my flight to Madrid on time.
My flight was an overnight flight to Madrid, so I was still on the plane at the beginning of the day. After the flight, I was able to find some students from my program and wait with them. We had to wait from 7:30 AM until 2:00 PM to be picked up. There were many of us who were tired and bored so we worked together to create fun ways to spend the time like walking through the airport, playing cards, and telling stories. The time we spent at the airport together, although it was miserably long, really helped us to bond.
When we were picked up, we checked into our hotel in Madrid. We initially had a meeting with International Studies Abroad which addressed our safety and health in Madrid. I learned to be careful with my belongings and how to get in touch with the program in case of an emergency. After the meeting I went out with some friends for tapas. In Spain, tapas are small portions of food that are very common to purchase during evenings with friends.
This was something I had to get accustomed to since instead of eating one large meal for dinner, everyone buys a tapa and shares it with the table. I like this tradition a lot because it helps to bring everyone together by sharing the food. Below are pictures of two tapas I purchased: patatas bravas and croquetas. Both of these tapas are very common in Spain and a must-try!
On this day, we took our first walking tour of Madrid! We saw sights such as the Catedral de Almudena and la Plaza de Armas. We visited La Reina Sofía Museum in which we were able to try to interpret different pieces of modern art by artists such as Picasso and Dalí. In this museum we learned how art can be subjective and can be interpreted in many different ways, based on who is looking at the certain piece.
Afterwards, we walked through downtown Madrid and had some free time to explore. My friends and I got lost in the city multiple times, but we were able to use our digital maps to find places to eat, find the bank, and find our way home. We began practicing our communication in Spanish as we went from store to store. Exploring the city was a great way to immerse ourselves in the culture and practice our Spanish-speaking skills at the same time.
On this day, we went to El Prado Museum in Madrid. This was one of my favorite walking tours that we took. Our tour guide was incredible and really helped me to understand the different pieces of artwork that we viewed. He showed us pieces of artwork in a chronological order so that we could see the evolution of concepts such as vanishing points, movement in paintings, and facial expressions. The most interesting piece to me was Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.
The tour guide helped us to understand how Velázquez was able to create a new perspective in this painting with the uses of illusions and mirrors. Pictured above is San Jerónimo el Real, which was right by El Prado Museum. After the museum we visited El Escorial, a monastery about an hour out from the city. We learned the history of the monarchs who were buried there and our tour guide explained the different aspects of the architecture to us as well.
Something that was interesting and kind of strange was that the image of a grill was integrated into many of the architectural aspects of the monastery because Saint Lawrence, a Christian martyr, was killed by being roasted on a grill. Our tour guide spoke in Spanish so, at first, I thought I was understanding the story incorrectly since it was so strange. This tour was very different, interesting, and taught me a lot about the religion in Spain.
For the last day of our mini-vacation, we traveled to Toledo! Toledo is a medieval city that is incredibly beautiful and picturesque. We went on an intensive walking tour of the city. In Toledo, there are many inclines and declines, and the ground is made of cobblestone. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the beautiful sites, however, such as the cathedrals and the marketplaces.
After our tour of the city, we grabbed tapas in the more modern area of Toledo and I was able to try calamar a la plancha. Some non-Spaniards may be discouraged by the look of this meal, but it is definitely worth trying as it was delicious!
On this day, we also had a meeting with International Studies Abroad to learn more about our homestays and our host families. I was extremely nervous to meet my host family and settle in to my new, temporary home, but the experience has been amazing so far. Check out my blog post next week to hear about my host family, my homestay, and the city of Valencia!